Can’t Compete, Won’t Compete: Failing at Being Mainstream is What Nintendo Do Best

Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, explains why keeping up with the Joneses has never been the company's style.
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Earlier this week, an exclusive industry symposium, B Dash Camp, took place in Osaka, Japan. Its aim was for affiliates and invitees of B Dash Ventures to come and have an opporutnity to learn about breaking into Japanese and global markets, whilst also having a place to springboard business ideas with a whole host of industry professionals at their disposal.

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One of the much anticipated talks was by current Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata. With the recent passing of Nintendo founder, Hiroshi Yamauchi, and with Sony and Microsoft’s next generation consoles being the talk of Holiday market domination, all eyes are on Nintendo to see what their next move is.

Embracing a Legacy of Bold Creativity

Iwata doesn’t seem to concerned that upcoming competitor’s hardware completely outstrips that of its current console, the Wii U. Instead, Iwata insists that becoming an outlier that depends on creativity rather than brawn is the key to Nintendo’s success. After all, Nintendo first started out as a card game company before it moved into video games.

“Opening the first door is when things are most interesting” – Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo

Their recent successes have relied on doing something that no one else is doing, even if initially they’re met with ridicule.

“Will America accept cute monsters? ‘No’, they said. Some people even recommended we make Pikachu more muscular. If we followed their advice, Pokemon would never have been the success that it was. Brain Training software became a hit in Japan, and I proposed that we sell it globally. Even as I said that as President, no one listened.”

“It’s often called the ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’: looking for something that no one else is working on. When we created the DS, people said it was strange to have a dual display. People said elderly people don’t play games, but they did. Opening the first door is when things are most interesting.”

Staying Put, But Moving On?

Overall, Iwata’s pride in how well Nintendo have been able to make a success from thinking outside the box has led to its current sense of resilience. When directly questioned about why Nintendo are refusing to move into the mobile market, creating games only for its own systems, Iwata made clear that there were no intentions to do so.

“If you do the same thing as others, it will wear you out. Nintendo is not good at competing, so we always have to challenge [the status quo] by making something new, rather than competing in an existing market.” – Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo 

But Iwata was able to punctuate his stubbornness with eloquence.

“If you do the same thing as others, it will wear you out. Nintendo is not good at competing, so we always have to challenge [the status quo] by making something new, rather than competing in an existing market.” 

It seems so topsy-turvy that the company that trailblazed bringing video games into ordinary homes, the key-stone of what is now a thriving multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, has resorted to being the underdog. But if you think about it hard enough, even when being instrumental in creating what is now the modern gaming market, they have always been innovators that have flown in the face of normality.

But many have been unsure about Nintendo’s future, especially given a rather muted presence at Eurogamer Expo 2013, with it really only pushing the HD remastering of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and its usual rehashes of staple brands, such as Donkey Kong Country.

But Iwata’s talk is one of surprising and tenacious inspiration, and hopefully means that there’ll soon be something off the wall enough to bring a sense of excitement back to this aging giant of gaming.

B Dash Camp took place in Osaka, Japan October 5th – 6th 2013. Huge thanks to Rick Martin at The Bridge, who initially covered and translated the session and provided the quotes and images we use.

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Bearded British game-bear. Likes his JRPGs accompanied with a G&T. Lives in London, UK. Also writes a lot about theatre and film. *jazz hands*